Chichester approves $6.4M school budget, despite concerns over enrollment drop

  • Seventy people attended the Chichester School District annual meeting on Saturday at Chichester Central School. LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Chichester Central School Principal Brian Beaverstock speaks ath the Chichester School District annual meeting on Saturday.  —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Resident Kate Mara speaks during the Chichester School District meeting at Chichester Central School on Saturday.  —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

  • Seventy people attended the Chichester School District annual meeting on Saturday at Chichester Central School. —LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 3/10/2018 11:23:45 PM

The town of Chichester approved a $6.4 million school budget during the district’s annual meeting Saturday, after two failed motions by residents to reduce spending.

The 47-12 vote green-lit funds for a full-time reading specialist to be hired at the Chichester Central School, along with the purchase of Google Chromebook computers for first- and second-graders and the completion of a parking lot repaving project.

Warrant articles for the installation of five new security cameras, a public address system and a power generator at the school also passed.

But some residents expressed concern about growing tax rates, especially given the steady decrease in district enrollment in recent years.

While the district’s budget has increased by more than a million dollars in the last 10 years, enrollment in Chichester’s only school has dipped by almost one-third in less than 20 years, according to data presented by school board member Ben Brown.

In 2001, there were close to 300 students attending Chichester Central School. Around 2007, that number dropped to 250. This year, enrollment is as low as 201 students.

Brown said that number is expected to decrease by 10 more students during the 2018-19 school year.

Todd Hammond, a resident who said he has children attending Pembroke Academy – the high school Chichester students feed into – said his family has had to think seriously about whether they can continue to afford living in the town.

“Many people I know who are around my age with children that are at the high school ... have already made the decision that once their kids graduates, they’re going to move because of our tax rate,” he said.

“Unfortunately, we’re living in a town where we’re starting to price ourselves out, and that concerns me. We’ve got to do something, and start cutting and looking more closely at our budget.”

In an attempt to offset some of that tax burden, Hammond made a motion to cut funds allotted for an increase in hours for the school’s hardware specialist – $33,411 – from the budget. The CCS hardware specialist, who works to assist teachers with technology in classrooms, is poised to see an increase in hours from 28 to 30, making that employee eligible for costly benefits.

CCS Principal Brian Beaverstock said this position has become necessary as the school works to implement a 1-1 Chromebook to student ratio.

Last year, the district implemented 1-1 Chromebooks ratio for third- through eighth-grade. A total of $11,330 was allotted in the 2018-19 budget to provide Chromebooks to first- and second-graders as well.

CCS teacher Jen Sanborn said she needed to call the hardware specialist into her classroom several times this year. She said the extra help will become even more necessary with more technology in the school.

“If you’re going to extend the Chromebooks from first-grade to eighth-grade, that’s one person in charge of 201 computers,” Sanborn said.

Hammond’s motion failed, 39-24. Another motion made by resident Mike Williams to reduce the budget $127,596 – approximately 2 percent – also failed, 44-19.

Brown said that with the reduction in Chichester’s enrollment, the school board has had to make difficult decisions to offset cost.

For example, the board made the decision of cutting a middle school teacher in this year’s budget, Brown said. This ultimately will save the district $81,791.

Other major costs included increasing Chichester Central School’s reading specialist position from a four day a week position to a five day a week position, costing taxpayers $18,600 a year.

Brown said expenditures for one-to-one work with students will save taxpayers money in the long run, if it prevents students with special needs from leaving the district.

“If we can save one student from having to be taken out of this school, bused to a different school, while we pay tuition at that different school ... not only is it better for the student, it’s better for all of our wallets,” he said.

In addition to passing the proposed budget, voters also approved $40,000 to fund the purchase of a power generator to be installed in the Chichester Central School.

A power generator at the school will establish it as a viable emergency shelter for the town. In the town’s current emergency system, displaced Chichester residents are sent to an emergency shelter in Allenstown.

The total cost of installing a power generator would be about $80,000. The school would receive 50 percent of the funding for the project from the New Hampshire Emergency Management Performance Grant, Brown said.

The district was also approved for $6,977 from taxpayers to install security cameras and a new public address system.

The $6,977 cost to taxpayers would be just 20 percent of the total cost for the security and public announcement system to be installed. Eighty percent of the actual cost – $34,886 – would be paid for by the New Hampshire Homeland Security and Emergency Management Public School Infrastructure fund.

Beaverstock said the school is in the process of applying for the grants now. If that money isn’t received, the projects will not be completed.

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